Bad Moms Christmas is a masterpiece.
Friends in wine-glass-toting arms, that’s only partly in jest.
Few films know exactly what its audience wants from it as much as this sequel to the raunchy-schmaltzy Moms Go Wild (And Learn About Themselves in the Process) hit comedy from last summer. More, few films deliver as satisfyingly as this holiday-themed romp: Give us the blush-inducing naughtiness from the first one, but sprinkle some naked Santas on top.
The sequel to last year’s surprise success doesn’t fudge with the formula too much. Last year, it was Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn playing overwhelmed moms who rebel against the impossible standards of the cult of the PTA. Life on the hamster wheel attempting to Keep Up With the Joneses is too exhausting, and they’re not gonna take it anymore.
They pop a few bottles, throw a few middle fingers at the uptight moms who made them feel small, and, in the hangover of it all, discover what being a mother really means to them. For all of the film’s four-letter words, it ends with an aww.
Reviews were decidedly tepid, but box-office receipts were through the roof. Bad Moms grossed nearly $200 million on a $20 million budget, making it one of the year’s most profitable films. Pundits were shocked. Anyone who lives in America, especially moms, were not.
Was Bad Moms silly and harmlessly funny? Definitely. But it also tapped into something both extremely present in the zeitgeist and underexplored in pop culture: the relentless, insidious demand on mothers to have it all, even as we mock the entire concept of having it all. The Bad Moms credo: Instead, say “fuck it” to it all.
It wasn’t a sleeper hit, as it was called. It woke up an audience desperate to see more like it. And we predict that, like children up all night on Christmas Eve, they’re still wide-awake waiting for Bad Moms Christmas to deliver.
This Christmas, they’re going to get exactly what they wanted. And that’s to say “fuck it” to the ridiculous expectations surrounding the holidays, too.
This time around, Kunis’s Amy, Bell’s Kiki, and Hahn’s Carla are being tormented by the pressures being put on them to stage the perfect Christmas when their respectively overbearing mothers visit over the holidays.
Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon play the moms. They are glorious.
Baranski’s Ruth is everything Amy rebuked in the first film: the woman obsessed with keeping up appearances, shaming even her daughter when she fails to do so. Clichés abound—we never said this movie reinvents the comedy wheel—with Ruth making passive-aggressive comments about Amy’s hair, weight, and cooking.
She mistakes Amy’s new boyfriend, Jay Hernandez’s Jessie, for hired help (and, in one of the film’s best recurring gags, never remembers meeting him). Ruth also delivers my new favorite burn of all-time (holiday edition): “Who knew Rite Aid sold Christmas decorations?”
Christine Baranski tossing off catty insults is its own holiday treat, and she obliges nearly every time she enters and exits a scene. (To her doting husband, when he undermines her: “I swear to god, Hank, I will drive you to the fire station and I will leave you there.”)
After now seeing it, we don’t how we lived before watching Baranski say the word “dick” 10 times in 30 seconds, but we’re better for it. Baranski, for her part, relishes every moment of screen time, whether she’s gallivanting in a princess tiara belting Christmas carols or peeling back the more emotional layers of why she is the way she is, staving off any trace of Evil Momzilla caricature.
We’d call it a standout performance if her colleagues weren’t as fantastic.
Cheryl Hines gives a studiously weird performance as Kiki’s overly attached mother, who wears pajamas with Bell’s face on them, gets her hair cut to match hers, and has obvious boundary issues. And as a pot-smoking, flask-swilling grandma named Isis who can’t remember her grandson’s name, Susan Sarandon’s performance is so on-brand to late-career comedy Susan Sarandon that you’d accuse her of phoning it in, had each line not been delivered to sheer perfection.
(When Baranski's character introduces herself as Ruth, "like Bader Ginsburg," Sarandon's character introduces herself as Isis, "like..." Well, you know. We howled.)
It’s a movie that exists almost 40 percent in montages and music cues, and that’s honestly where most of the original trio of Kunis, Bell, and Hahn is relegated to this go-round. Still, everyone is having a blast—including the audience.
That’s never more true than when Hahn’s Carla has her meet-cute with a stripping Santa played by This Is Us’s Justin Hartley (displaying surprising comedic assuredness, along with those signature abs). She works at a spa. He comes to get his cartoonishly large balls waxed. Never has a scene this romantic included so many instances of the word “taint.” The woman next to me hyperventilated with laughter.
Bad Moms Christmas is broad comedy at its broadest. It’s the kind of film that you could certainly find flaws in—the dialogue is hardly inspired, the plotting certainly predictable, and the denouement corny-as-hell—but you’d have to be a monster to not see its obvious entertainment value, not to mention the kind of audience it directly speaks to.
Midway through the film, Wanda Sykes, playing a therapist, has a monologue about the toll being a mother takes on a woman that had audience members audibly hooting in agreement. The dialogue about the burden and underappreciation of motherhood is incredibly on-the-nose. Though it’s often delivered with a handful of f-bombs or oh-no-they-didn’t raunchy jokes, that’s entirely point. That’s why it’s satisfying: catharsis through Kathryn Hahn not giving a fuck.
It’s like an entire movie version of Megyn Kelly talking about what it’s like to be a mother and asking her Today show audience who agrees. They all dutifully but tepidly send their hands to the air. But then Kathie Lee and Hoda show up behind her with a case of Pinot and shout, “Am I right, ladies?” and they all go apeshit. Sometimes, we’re desperate for permission to let the fuck loose, to have a Bad Moms Christmas. Maybe Hollywood is finally understanding that.
Last year saw “surprise” hits from Hidden Figures and Bad Moms, while Rogue One topped the box-office chart. This year has seen similar stunned reactions to the receipts for Girls Trip and the records set by Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman. It’s that thing that makes Hollywood actresses’ eyes spin when asked about it each time it happens, because it happens all the time: Women like to go to movies starring women, about women, and that are entertaining to women. It’s hardly a mystery.
Yet it’s still treated as such. For further proof of Hollywood deserving coal in its stocking, Kunis, Bell, and Hahn, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, revealed that, despite the original Bad Moms’ box-office success, they were essentially shortchanged when trying to increase their quotes for the sequel.
And so Bad Moms Christmas suddenly becomes this unexpected test case for the industry: a movie that taps into the conversation about gender opportunity on screen (the average age of the six female leads is 50), an underserved audience demographic, and pay equity in Hollywood.
Quite frankly, when Kathryn Hahn is making you laugh this hard, give her all the money.